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Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin may include Canberra in Australian spending spree

From Catherine Zeta Jones to the capital's touted convention centre. What next for $27b man? Phillip Thomson reports.

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China's second richest person Wang Jianlin has signalled interest in investing in the Canberra convention centre, sources say. 

As founder and chairman of the hotel, cinema and retail conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group the multi-billionaire Mr Wang is in the middle of a $1.6 billion spending spree on Australian real estate. 

He has already invested $290 million into the three-tower Jewel hotel project located on 1 hectare of prime beachfront land at Surfers Paradise.

ACT Tourism and Events Minister Andrew Barr said the government welcomed all potential investors but would not discuss individual proposals because of commercial in-confidence. 

Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robbtold a meeting of the National Capital Attraction Association on Wednesday of a recent conversation he had with Mr Wang during an investor gathering in China earlier this year. 

"He said 'I didn't realise how underweight I was in Australian tourism infrastructure'," Mr Robb said. 


Within months of the conversation between the politician and the billionaire Mr Wang had started his Australian spending spree.

The man worth $27 billion also travelled to the ACT in June to meet Mr Robb. The minister's office said Mr Wang "expressed strong interest in significant tourism infrastructure in Canberra", although the minister did not detail Canberra projects the Chinese developer was interested in. 

Mr Wang has built  numerous conference centres as part of the dozens of five-star hotel projects under his direction. 

Last year actress Catherine Zeta-Jones helped him launch an $8 billion movie making city project in Qingdao which will boast a shopping mall, amusement park and convention complex

Mr Wang was China's richest person until recently when he was overtaken by e-commerce entrepreneur Jack Ma, according to Hurun Report. 

Supporters of a new convention centre for Canberra say it would triple spending in the territory's conference and business events sector

Mr Barr told the Legislative Assembly in September Canberra already had a good enough convention centre given the city's size, unless the Commonwealth put in a significant amount of money. 

On Wednesday Mr Robb said the main obstacle to Canberra's advancement as a tourism destination was "connectivity".

He said a fast train or direct flights to and from Singapore was vital. 

In terms of the fast train, Mr Robb said it would transform Canberra and the only challenge was how to fund it. 

"There are innovative ways I think - I look at the American west and how it developed," he said.

"The big train barons got paid for laying out tracks to open up the west by being given some of the land around towns being built  around the track.

"The principle is really what (has recently) happened in China.

"They captured the increase in land values that occurred because of the fast train. 

"We've got a lot of serious people looking at how we could do things like that."

Mr Robb said Australia's tourism industry needed to target the premium market and needed 80 new resorts or hotels by 2020. 

"There are 600 million people in the region around us - from India to China and everywhere in between - who are in the middle class," he said.

"It's anticipated within 30 years that will go to something in the order of 3 billion people.

"We should be aiming to be the first choice long-haul destination for people in the region." 

Visit Canberra director Ian Hill said data about potential freight - such as cut flowers, perishable medical supplies and fish from the NSW South Coast - flying direct from Canberra to Singapore in the same aircraft as passengers should be collected to strengthen the argument for companies considering it as a route.